Back in August, I (Joshua) posted a more academic essay sharing some of the behind-the-scenes linguistic and cross-cultural research that is part of missionary life — Enkiteng Hermeneutics: Reading the Bible with Maasai Christians. Further development of that resulted in two different publications. I’d be pleased if you took a look:
- “An Enkiteng Hermeneutics—Reading (and Hearing!) the Bible with Maasai Christians: A review essay and proposal.” Global Missiology 18, no. 4 (October 2021): 2–16.
read as pdf here
read as html here
- “A Four-in-One Book Review: A Four-in-One Book Review: On the Bible and Intercultural Hermeneutics among the Maasai.” International Review of Mission 110, no. 2 (November 2021): 358–363.
read as pdf here
Some of my other research had also been published earlier this year. Take a look, tolle lege (“take and read”):
- “My God is enkAi: a reflection of vernacular theology.” Journal of Language, Culture, and Religion 2, vol. 1 (2021): 1–20.
a pdf of the entire issue is available here
- “Conversion or Proselytization? Being Maasai, Becoming Christian.” Global Missiology 18, vol. 2 (April 2021): 11 pages.
read as pdf here
read as html here
These samples of our mission research aren’t as glamorous as sharing pictures of baptisms or of new church building dedications — but without this sort of foundational work, the glamor too often tends be temporary and shorn of lasting glory.
There are different phases of ministry. Missionary pioneers begin with the Planting phase: proclaiming the gospel, making disciples, and planting new churches. In the late 1970s, CMF was kicked out of Ethiopia by the new communist dictatorship. Some of the CMF-Ethiopia team came to Kenya, starting pioneering church planting work among the unreached Maasai and Turkana. When we affiliated with CMF in 2003, the ministry had reached the Parenting phase. As a result of CMF’s work, today there are strong churches in both Kenya and Ethiopia.
Moreover, our team is blessed to have entered the Partnering phase of ministry with the Community Christian Churches of Kenya. At the end of 2015, there were 201 congregations. As of this writing (April 2016), there are at least three new church plants for a total of 204.
Check out this short and exciting video, in which our teammate Joe Cluff explains what’s going on:
Cross-cultural life & work are exhilarating. Asking what it means, practically speaking, to live with Jesus from the view point of a different language and culture can open your eyes to the teachings of Scripture in new and profound ways. We have found this to be especially true as we have struggled with culturally relevant and biblically faithful ways to teach stewardship.
In many western contexts, teaching on stewardship can be summarized like this:
That stuff you think you own? It’s not really yours; it’s God’s. So treat “your” resources accordingly.
This approach captures part – but not all – of the biblical teaching on stewardship. But in East African contexts, as soon as you say “it’s not really yours” you’ve lost your audience and thrown in the towel. The Maasai have a proverb that explains this: The cow says, “don’t lend me. Just give me away.” This is because the cow knows that if it is lent, it will not be well cared for. Only when there is ownership is there also proper stewardship. We also see this in the teaching of Jesus in John 10.12-13.
The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and flees. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. He runs away because he is only a hired hand and has no concern for the sheep.
Only when you can say “it is mine” or “it is ours” can stewardship be faithfully practiced. There is another Maasai proverb that emphasizes this: All things which their owners care for endure. The twofold implication (which is clear in the Maa) is that only owners properly care for possessions and only proper stewardship enables things to last.
There is a place to teach that stewardship is the management of someone else’s resources. (See, for example, Matthew 25.14-3.) But it is also necessary to recognize we are the recipients of God’s gifts. What God has given you is now yours.
ORE TINIATA MENYE, MIMURATA
Another Maasai cultural proverb suggests an alternative approach to the traditional western interpretation. Now if you have a father, it observes, you’re not really circumcised. For many tribes in East Africa, including the Maasai, boys are ritually circumcised during adolescence. This event marks a major transition. No longer a boy, the circumcised male is now a warrior and a man. So the proverb is saying that if your father is still alive, it is as if you are still a boy. Culturally, if your father is alive, it’s as though you are still a youth.
Why is this? Because you show natural respect for your old father. You honor him by consulting with him before you so much as a sell a goat to obtain school fees for your children. Are you 60 and a grandfather? If your dad is still alive, you will consult with him before you sell a goat to obtain school fees for your grandchildren.
Traditionally this is NOT abusive patriarchy. It is not just that the old man remains the nominal head of the extended family. Rather, he is recognized to have wisdom. He can guide the younger generations in the best way forward. Being past the point of self-seeking desire, he has a broader perspective about what is best for the whole family. The primary interest of the old man is in the well-being of his whole family. So he will advise them accordingly. He receives enkanyit (proper respect and honor) and gives in return counsel and blessing.
(Western cultures used to practice something similar. We called it “filial piety.”)
For those of us who follow Jesus, we know that our Father Papa God is alive. This does not mean we are not responsible adults. It DOES mean we should invite God into the process as we consider the management of our resources.
That stuff you own? It really is yours. But your Father in heaven is very much alive. Will you consult with him about how you use your resources?
[Updated September 2018: We just learned the second proverb mentioned above.]